“Sometimes your rationality fails you during a time of crisis,” says sophomore Tony Qian (junior Haymar Lim), wringing his hands and looking around with shell-shocked eyes. “I never believed that until that day.”
A collection of monologues compiled by English teacher Annie Thoms based on interviews with members of the Stuyvesant community, “With Their Eyes,” this year’s STC fall drama, ruminates on the events of September 11 and their aftermath. Directed by junior Ivy Marcella, sophomore Teddy Becker-Jacob, freshman assistant Mitchell Teper, and produced by junior Neeta D’Souza and senior Viktoria Hallikaar, the show was performed on Thursday, October20 through Saturday, October 22 in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the attacks. By focusing on emotionality and a wide range of perspectives, this production transcended those ten years to create a tapestry of sentiment and experience, resulting in a comprehensive view of a seemingly incomprehensible event.
Set in Stuyvesant’s third floor atrium, the unfinished looking backdrop consisted of a painting of the large quilt that adorns the actual atrium, lockers, and the window view onto the river. The lighting consisted almost solely of steady spotlights, a fitting choice for this stationary show.
The play opens with a spotlight on a line of nine characters, who proceed to give short statements that shed light on their personalities and show their unique views on the events of 9/11. This served as an impressive hook, transporting the audience back to the months after the attack.
Following this introduction, the lights dimmed and the curtain opened on two new performers, junior Muki Barkan as senior Max Willens and sophomore Oliver Lipton as senior Ilya Feldsherov, who alternated the delivery of their monologues.
Though Willens’s story line was initially hard to follow, Barkan delivered his lines about losing his home with solemn conviction. Lipton evoked the naïve Feldsherov’s fear with a perfectly faltering voice, though his mannerisms did tend to get repetitive as the monologue went on.
In each scene, a group consisting of five or six actors all in black accompanied the main characters. At first, their role on stage is unclear, but it is eventually understood that they help support the characters’ stories through mime, carrying flags at a commemoration in Battery Park and jostling a monologist who is walking down the stairs at Brooklyn Tech. Though the group’s role is minor, they added a welcomed extra dimension to the performance.
The majority of the play consisted of long monologues performed back to back, which were generally powerful and evocative, though at times faltering. By dispensing with plot and formal structure, this play rested almost exclusively on the actors’ shoulders. With no narrative to follow, the audience was allowed to focus solely on the words being said, and the success of each monologue was determined almost entirely by the quality of the actor.
Senior Josiah Mercer, as social studies teacher Matt Polazzo, perfectly captured the use of humor to cope with the tragedy. When describing the multitude of free gifts that the faculty was sent after the attack, Polazzo said, “It’s almost as if they were testing some of this stuff on us […] You expect a certain taste when you eat popcorn, but this, this was sweet.” His swaggering yet vulnerable performance was one of the highlights of the show.
Senior Jackie Krass also stood out as building manager Renee Levine, who describes comforting students fleeing up the West Side Highway while also reassuring herself: “Okay, you’re going to hold someone’s hand. I don’t care if you know them or not, you’re going to hold their hand and not look back. And I didn’t look back.”
This powerful statement embodies the fear felt by the Stuyvesant community, and like many other exceptionally memorable lines in the play, exposed the raw emotions of the students and faculty during the attack; from bitter anger, shown by sophomore Kevin Zhang (senior Brandon Foo) criticizing his friends for laughing when the first plane hit, to the shock of becoming aware of one’s own mortality, as described by security guard Juan Carlos Lopez (senior Ravtej Kohli). Kohli’s understated delivery of his lines as he explains that his son was the last thing he saw as his life flashed before his eyes was one of the most powerful moments of the show.
Sophomore Israt Hossain, as junior Aleiya Gafar, delivered another achingly subtle performance. A bubbly Big Sib and Red Cross volunteer, Gafar initially conveyed infectious optimism, discussing her pride in the maturity of her little sibs, and the cute firemen who came all the way from Ohio. Then she mentions, almost as a side note, that one of her aunts went missing. Hossain didn’t over-dramatize the moment—her voice faltered, broke, but then she continued. More than any other actor, through body language and an expressive voice, she succeeded in creating a fully fleshed character.
The show also explores students’ feelings of sudden displacement upon being forced to move to Brooklyn Tech after the attacks, while the Stuyvesant building was being used as a triage center, as well as their joy upon returning to the building in Tribeca. Alejandro Torres Hernandez (freshman Razwan Miah) summed up these emotions with the emphatic proclamation, “I LOVE Stuy!” which earned Miah a standing ovation on Friday.
Senior Lilja Walter delivered the final monologue as Kerneth “Kern” Levigion. Kern tells the story of Stuyvesant’s American flag, which vanished after the attacks only to be rediscovered when he chanced on a picture of it being hoisted by firemen at Ground Zero. Tactfully placed, this monologue leaves the audience with hope, as the flag—a symbol for the Stuyvesant community—is seen surviving the attacks and continuing its legacy, having traveled with the U.S. Military to Afghanistan. Walter delivered her lines with endearing earnestness and simplicity.
“With Their Eyes” is a unique and unconventional play, and should be approached as such. By making the viewer work to braid all the moving pieces together, it is almost like that awful day is being reconstructed in one’s own mind, making the stories of these disparate people all the more personal.
Through the many different views each monologue provides of 9/11, ”With Their Eyes” conveys a massive, tangled chunk of humanity. Overall, the very moving performances allowed the audience to look back on that day with a new perspective, providing a consolidated vision of September 11 for a whole new generation of students.